Trump’s Followers See Wide-Ranging Conspiracy to Steal Election

Interviews with Trump supporters reveal a deep-seated distrust toward the media and perceptions of mischief to steal the election.

What Happens If Donald Trump Refuses to Concede?

Election analysts overwhelmingly expect Donald Trump to lose the presidential race in less than two weeks, but his strongest supporters say they believe just the opposite will occur. They find solace in the Republican’s fiery attacks on “rigged” polls and buy his theories of a wide-ranging conspiracy between Democrats and the media to fix the Nov. 8 results.

“If he loses, yes, I’ll know it was rigged,” said Robin Chason of Quincy, Florida.

Some say there could be violence and unrest if Trump followers believe he lost amid foul play.

“It’s going to be—I don’t want to say anarchy—but something close,” said Tony Bynum, 55, of Panama City, Florida.

“Trump’s going to win. The media is lying,” Bynum said. “I’m afraid to think what’s going to happen” if Trump loses, Bynum said, floating a “very distinct possibility” there won’t be a peaceful transition of power.

President Barack Obama is helping rig the election on behalf of Democrat Hillary Clinton, said Larry Meots, 65, of Jacksonville, North Carolina. “He’s had a lot to do with the cover-up,” he said.

Conversations with dozens of Trump rally-goers this week in Florida and North Carolina revealed that Trump’s disaffected base, united by a belief that U.S. elites have forgotten them, is revved up by their candidate’s conspiratorial warnings about mischief against them at the highest levels of society.

‘Bullsh-- Propaganda’

“I think it could get ugly,” said Caleb Zufall of Tallahassee, who works in law enforcement. “My biggest concern is with the media. If Trump wins, I’m afraid they’re going to absolutely refuse to get behind him, refuse to report it. They’re going to incite violence.”

Trump backers are quick to dismiss polls showing Clinton with a consistent lead in enough states to win her the presidency, which have caused forecasters to rate her odds of victory at 86 percent or higher.

“I think it’s a bunch of bullsh-- propaganda,” said Fred Jones, 71, of Atlanta. “I don’t believe it.”

“You just can’t believe that crap,” said Russell Taylor of Thomasville, Georgia, a Trump campaign co-chair.

“Trump’s gonna win. He’s gonna blow her out,” Taylor said, citing a panoply of pro-Trump yard signs and more enthusiasm for him than for Clinton in his personal conversations. “You get a feel for things.”

At an outdoor rally on a chilly Tuesday evening in Tallahassee, Trump fed his fans the red meat they find so exhilarating. His first mention of Clinton prompted “lock her up!” chants—a now-consistent feature at his rallies. “We have a nasty, nasty election. But we have the facts on our side,” Trump said to cheers. “We’re leading a movement the likes of which has never ever been seen in this country.”

Trump soon turned his attention to the assembled press, who were fenced off from the crowd and protected by security guards, accusing them of colluding with Democrats and stacking the deck against his candidacy. “There is nothing more corrupt than those people,” said Trump, who has called for changing U.S. libel laws to make it easier to win lawsuits against news organizations.

“Lock ‘em up!” one man nearby yelled, before letting out a chuckle.

‘Hillary’s Trying To Steal It’

A recent Morning Consult poll found that 81 percent of Trump supporters say the election could be stolen from them as a result of pervasive voter fraud, even though studies find examples of it to be extremely rare. Trump has fanned the flames by becoming the first major-party nominee in the modern era to refuse to commit to conceding the election if Clinton is deemed the winner.

“The Marxists in this country have taken over our mainstream media,” said Ron Childress, 76, from the Atlanta area, at the Tallahassee rally. “They’ve infiltrated our education and institutions to the point where, if we don’t win now, we become either a banana republic or a Marxist regime.”

A Trump supporter displays a sign at a rally in Tallahassee, Florida.
A Trump supporter displays a sign at a rally in Tallahassee, Florida.
Photographer: Sahil Kapur/Bloomberg

Nearby, a middle-aged women waved a sign that read, “Hillary Sucks, But Not Like Monica.” A man near her pointed and told her in a gentle tone, “I like the sign.”

Childress said he believes Obama is helping Clinton steal the election, and sees the president’s Christian faith as a cover. “He’s a closet Muslim, and I think that’ll come out when he’s out of office,” Childress said, adding that Clinton is a “sympathizer” of Muslims who also wants to force Americans to give up their guns. Either that or “she will make it almost impossible to buy a gun” by raising taxes on ammunition, he said, evoking proposals that have never been in Clinton’s platform.

Given that 41 percent of Republicans in a Reuters/Ipsos poll released Wednesday said they thought Clinton would win the election versus 40 percent who said Trump, the voices heard at the candidate’s rallies may not be reflective of the average party member or even the average Trump voter come Election Day. But they’ve proven to be larger, angrier, and more dedicated to him than the party’s consultant class imagined, making him invincible in the GOP primary. Now they’re turning some of their anger toward party leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan, whose support of Trump has come with caveats of biting criticism.

“Paul Ryan—he was my guy. I think now he’s just a lot of talk. I want him out,” said 19-year-old Gus Wollaeger, a student at Florida State University.

Ryan “needs to go to jail. He’s basically a traitor,” said Craig Boyd, 47, of Tallahassee. “He has sold us out. He’s a backstabber. He’s bought and sold by the left.”

And Clinton? “Hillary’s trying to steal it,” Boyd said. How? “Rigging voting machines, rigging polls, tearing up Trump ballots,” he said—unsubstantiated assertions that Trump has legitimized among followers.

‘I Am Sort Of a Conspiracy Theorist’

Joe Fogleman of New Bern, North Carolina, said he doesn’t believe the vote count will be gamed, win or lose. But he sees mischief of another kind. “It’s rigged in the sense that there’s no doubt there’s a lot of collusion between the Democrats and the White House and the press to push charges against Trump that are baseless,” he said.

Clinton, for her part, labeled Trump’s conspiracy theories about a fixed election “disturbing, dark, dangerous, divisive” during a Wednesday campaign stop in Lake Worth, Florida.

Some of Trump’s supporters recognize he’s the underdog. Rachel Henderson, a 25-year-old receptionist in Tallahassee, confessed that she believes Clinton “has an advantage” in the race.

Two-thirds of American voters expect Clinton to win the election, and a similar number say they have confidence the votes will be accurately tallied, according to a CNN poll released Tuesday.

Still, “I am sort of a conspiracy theorist,” Henderson said. “I don’t trust the government. I don’t trust any of them.” She said she’d accept a Clinton victory, but sounded less confident that her fellow Trump supporters would when asked if she worries there will be violence.

“Maybe,” she shrugged. “We’re the ones with guns.”

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